Taking root: the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed

To get to the root of the ideas behind the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed initiative, now in its fifth year in Asheville, program coordinator Rebecca Byrn says it is all about building relationships.

“That’s the foundation of what I do,” Byrn says. “Bringing organizations together, enhancing the relationship the community has with law enforcement and making sure those connections happen.”

The West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed stems out of a national strategy funded by the U.S. Department of Justice and intended to address crime prevention and public safety. The WROWS covers much of West Asheville and focuses energy on areas and neighborhoods that have a higher vulnerability for crime. Weed and Seed works in those communities by fostering trust and communication with law enforcement while building momentum for vulnerable communities to sustain positive change through meaningful programs and neighborhood restoration.

And, Byrn adds, the numbers show a real decrease in crime and violent crime in those areas.

“We are showing a 45% decrease in drug calls for service, a 32% decrease in violent crime and a 24% decrease in weapons offenses compared to the two years before the program was initiated,” Byrn says. “Every year we see the crime numbers go down.”

In November of 2010, Asheville City Council voted to accept the latest round of federal funding.

So how does Weed and Seed work? As it is funded through a USDOJ grant, all Weed and Seed efforts must be rooted in increasing public safety, but the strategies for achieving that mission can have many different faces.

Part of the funding goes to providing extra law enforcement. Asheville Police Officers are able to focus an additional 25 hours on the WROWS above their normal patrol duties in order to “weed out” criminal activity. Community Resource Officers also develop relationships with neighborhood residents, encouraging community policing efforts. “We want people to be comfortable going to law enforcement so they can help officers with information on what goes on in their community,” Byrn notes.

Officers are also on point to interact with neighbors regarding code enforcement in communities, as nuisance properties have been shown to have a relationship to crime in neighborhoods. CROs can also be seen attending community events and helping out with neighborhood cleanups.

Those steps dovetail with the program’s prevention, intervention and neighborhood improvement, or “seed” strategies, that involve an expanding network of community members and organizations. All are involved in creating positive and enriching environments for education and growth, from tutoring programs and creative arts to job preparedness and financial counseling. A steering committee made up of community members and service providers works with an expanding group of partners to determine best opportunities for community development.

As the grant administrator, the City of Asheville awards Weed and Seed money, through a request for proposals process, to organizations who can provide programs that meet the initiative’s goals. Recent examples include tutoring by River of Life International and the I Have a Dream Foundation, and street beautification by Asheville Greenworks.

From an upcoming babysitting certification program through the Red Cross to nutritional cooking classes by Slow Food Asheville, the kinds of programs that fit into Weed and Seed cover a lot of ground, but all can be traced back to the common goal of increased public safety.

See below to read a list of organizations currently contracted to provide services through the the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed program.

On Feb. 24, Asheville will host a regional Weed and Seed conference that will see representatives from the U.S. Attorney General’s office, as well as officials from Charlotte, Shelby and Statesville’s Weed and Seed operations. Alongside a visit to the Weed and Seed area, officials will be able to share notes on strategies that have paid off. “It’s important that we have these kinds of quarterly visits,” says Bryn. “We all face the same successes and the same challenges.”

For more information on the West Riverside Operation Weed and Seed program, contact program coordinator Rebecca Byrn at (828) 258-2813 or rbyrn@ashevillenc.gov.

The following organizations are currently contracted to provide services to the WROWS:

Asheville Greenworks (Neighborhood beautification)
Children First, Project MARCH (Youth tutoring and enrichment programs)
Consumer Credit Counseling Services (Money management and home ownership classes)
Green Opportunities (Job readiness program)
I Have a Dream Foundation (Youth mentoring, tutoring and enrichment program)
LEAF in Schools and Streets (Creative arts program for youth)
River of Life (Youth tutoring and enrichment programs)
Slow Food Asheville, FEAST (Nutritional cooking classes)